Hero: Nick Larkin

Recently the Missoula Independent published a full-length feature on a local hooker (“Using Her Religion,” on June 22, by Jason Wiener). I read it at the time, but didn’t comment on it or think about it much, mainly because it’s not where my focus lies right now. But what I have noticed is that the story has sparked an unusual amount of outrage among letter-writers and, one presumes, the paper’s readership.

First, my own view is that stories about people living on our society’s margins are good – like John Adams’ recent piece on a group of the Missoula homeless — these people are part of our communities, and it’s important to not only know that they exist, but to understand them, too.

That’s not what the story’s detractors thought.

Unfortunately I can’t find archived letters from the Independent. Most letters took issue with Wiener’s non-judgmental tone: they saw the article as condoning or even approving of Nouveaux’ life choices. Many were appalled that the Independent would even choose a hooker as a topic for a feature. Most trotted out children, saying they would be damaged by reading the story (kids read the newspapers these days?) – someone even arranged a letter writing campaign by teenage girls who all claimed writing about  Nouveaux and her views would only encourage girls to become prostitutes.

(Of course, if you actually read the story, Nouveaux’ life sound pretty horrific, and she seems…well…nuts. Give me a desk job any day!)

A letter from Missoula man, John Tesdal, published in the current issue of the paper aptly demonstrates the outraged tone of many letter writers:

I found the story rather tasteless and beneath the quality of reporting previously found in the Independent. These “shock” type stories have no place in our community, especially when our children can pick up the Independent in numerous places around our city.As a small-business owner who is frequently solicited by the Missoula Independent for advertising, I must decline doing business with the Independent, as I do not wish to be associated with this type of media dissemination.

The Missoula Independent must make a choice as to the direction of its reporting in relation to its advertisers. No advertisers, no Missoula Independent.

I urge other business owners to think about the message they are helping send to our citizens, including our youth, and if they are willing to accept the responsibility of mismanaged media that does not concern itself with the welfare of the common reader and is instead harboring a self-serving attitude.

I don’t know about you, but I do not want any part of this style of degradation.

First, the Missoula Independent is a great paper with excellent journalists on its staff. It’s not going away. If anything, it’s gaining respectability for its investigative journalism. Remember who broke the real story behind the John Morrison scandal? Not the Missoulian. Tesdal might yank his ads – if he really has any – but it’s his business that may suffer.

Second, since when is the media supposed to uphold, confirm, and create the moral climate of a community? It’s always been the Independent’s mission to challenge readers’ assumptions and local authority. That’s a good thing.

But let’s listen to what Hamilton native and today’s hero, Nick Larkin, has to say:

Cannot say that I was surprised by the angry letters you received regarding “Using Her Religion.” Like many others, I found the piece to be somewhat disturbing. However, it was interesting to read about the obscure views of this woman and the (often harsh) realities of prostitution. Interesting also were the furious letters regarding the article, including one from a high-school student who wondered if newspapers were even “allowed to print something like that.” Fortunately, censorship does not reach all levels of media. Thank you, Missoula Independent, for still having the balls to publish something that may not be music to everyone’s ears.


I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again. Freedom of speech is for everybody, even for people and ideas you don’t like.

  1. Jen. That Jen.

    Holy Cow.


    I went to high school with this woman. She was on the Speech & Debate team with me. She was smart and funny and sweet and cute…and like most of the other girls in her class.

    I am blown away by this, and I agree with your hero.

    My first response to reading the outrage letters was a giggle. Seriously – so many “academics” and others in Msla, that I have encountered, are slow to admit that with the phenomenal growth seen in the community, there is definitely an increase in crime (even so-called ‘victimless’ crimes such as prostitution). Gay-bashing, theft, meth deals, etc. Perhaps illuminating it and putting it out in the open was just too much for some to take being said about their Garden City.

  2. You went to high school with her? Whaddya know!

    That’s what I like about living in Montana. Small world.

  3. Jen. That Jen.

    No doubt. I just forwarded the article to a friend who also knows her.

    I am standing here beside myself – really, if you knew this woman in high school -completely different.

    I really hope that she is happy. I know that sounds weird to say about someone using sex to buy groceries, and no little girl wants to grow up to be a hooker, but really – she has been through horror I can’t imagine and I wish her only the best.

  4. Mark T

    Tesdal said “As a small-business owner who is frequently solicited… ” – yuk yuk yuk.

  5. I will have to read the article, but I want to be very careful not to spend any money at Tesdale’s business. What is his business?

    Jesus would have been compassionate about the woman’s situation, but he was always treating people like human beings.

  6. I agree that such stories should be told. However, it does bring out my less-than-humanistic and certainly less-than-liberal side to hear about her many unplanned pregnancies. I mean, it’s no big secret how these things happen. I know that birth control is expensive, but it’s still cheaper than a child. It reminds me of a big article the Trib ran several years back about a woman who was then about 21 years old and had three or four kids with different fathers, and at least one of them had been taken away, as I remember. The headline was “Norplant Is Mom’s Latest Reponsible Act”. I felt uncharacteristically enraged. What in the hell was her FIRST responsible act?

    But I digress.

  7. John Tesdal

    Oh my! I see that my little letter to the Missoula Independent has graced the pages of your blog.

    You state: “Tesdal might yank his ads – if he really has any – but it’s his business that may suffer.”

    Our business is called K9LIVES, and if you would have read the letter carefully you would have noticed that I stated that I am frequently solicited by the Independent, never have I said that I run ads with them.

    I’m disappointed that you feel the need to take cheap shots at what is merely my opinion. As a business owner I have the right, if not the responsibility, to support other businesses that have similar interests; the Missoula Independent does not have those similar interests.

    Trash talking is not the foundation of diversity, quite contrary it is a tool of division.

    The story in the Independent was not cutting edge, it wasn’t brave, it wasn’t heroic, in my opinion it was just plain irresponsible.

  8. Welcome to the blog, John. Thanks for the correction about how you’re advertising — or not — with the Independent. It’s probably too late to include it in the post, tho.

    You’re certainly entitled to your opinion — I don’t think I ever denied you that right. (See the last line of the post.) And I don’t think I took “cheap shots” at your letter. I think my points were valid.

    And it’s ironic that you accuse me of “trash talking” and “divisiveness.” Your letter was the epitome of those qualities. To chide a newspaper and imply that it’s supposed to serve a certain moral purpose implies that your vision of morality is correct, and the Independent’s incorrect. That is, you created the divide, not me or the paper.

    I’m defending the paper’s right, even its mission, to challenge our viewpoints. I was shocked by the woman’s life, too. It made me a little uneasy to read the story, and I certainly don’t want anyone to emulate her lifestyle. But I think just reporting how she lived, objectively, did more to dissaude young girls from the life than all the sermonizing or preaching or trumpeting of virtue.

    You can try to hide these things, but that only makes people more curious about them. IMHO.

  9. John Tesdal

    Your cheap shots were in regard as to whether or not there was a business. Don’t you think it funny that nobody ever asked? The Independent sure knew as they have not called me for advertising since my letter.

    The trash talking was not directed towards you, it should have been reworded as trash reporting rather than trash talking. Apologies for the miscommunication. Please re-read my comments with this in mind and I hope you can understand the meaning of that reference as it pertains to the Missoula Independent.

    You say you are defending their right, their mission to challenge our viewpoints. I say that their first mission should be the fiduciary responsibility that they have to their staff and supporting advertisers. I don’t make the rules for commerce, I just live by them.

    One final comment before I leave you to your work, if the Independent were truly gutsy and cutting edge, I would have liked to see them print the Danish Mohammad Cartoons. Too risky? Self censorship? Might insult a few muslims? What did the JC Neveaux article do to the Christians?

    Don’t we live in a wonderful world full of hypocrisy?

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